Small Wild Remedies

© Paul Gonella

Education Officer, Jess Parsons, shares with us some of the small wild remedies the natural world holds for alleviating stress and anxiety.

It is 6:30am on Sunday 22nd March 2020, the weirdest Mother’s Day I can remember, including the one when it snowed, a couple of years back. I am sitting on my back doorstep in pyjamas, slippers and a big woolly jumper with my hands wrapped around a cup of tea, having hardly slept a wink. I’m breathing very consciously and slowly, in through my nose and out through my mouth and watching three goldfinches in an acer tree in my small back garden. I focus one the way they seem to be taking turns to visit the two perches on my sunflower seed feeder. The scene looks all rather polite and cheerful. There is no hoarding or panic in goldfinch land apparently. Surely there is a Bob Marley song in there somewhere.

Luckily, in these unprecedented times, the natural world holds many small wild remedies to the stress and disquiet that many of us are feeling. Here are some.

Talking points

Most of the people I know are making an extra special effort to keep in touch, either on the phone, or by other digital means. This is wonderful, although many of the conversations I’ve had in the last week have revolved around toilet roll, people behaving badly and the difference between social distancing and self isolating. When these subjects have begun to make my eyelid muscles twitch, I have switched to talking about the celandines in the woods near our home or the heron that has taken to perching on next door’s roof. Similarly, on social media, I have sought out groups and friends who have been posting photos of their gardens, their pets and previous expeditions to the magnificent wild places in our country. In this way, I’m finding that wildlife and wild places are serving as a positive and uplifting talking point and a soothing balm to the craziness of everything else. In fact, for Mother’s Day, one of the things I sent to my Mum was a book of everyday nature. On the phone each evening, we can chat about what wisdom the book had to offer each day and take a break from worrying about how we’re going to get shopping or prescriptions.

Close to nature - touching a tree

© Matthew Roberts

Forgetting screens for a minute

I know that loads of us don’t have gardens. I have only had one since October, before which I lived with my husband in a second floor flat with no balcony. But I did have windows. One of our windows had a bird feeder on it for a while and was visited by a couple of blue tits and a really noisy magpie. Another window looked out over the residential area of Fareham where we lived at the time. Not exactly the Lake District, right. Actually though, in amongst the houses there were trees, which change gradually, particularly in spring and autumn. I used to enjoy watching whatever birds flew over too. Across most of our area, there are often gulls to spot; sometimes gregarious black-headed gulls, maybe some larger herring gulls or even a Mediterranean gull if you’re really paying attention.  There was also the weather.  Although we couldn’t actually see the sea from where we lived, we were facing in the direction of the Solent and often enjoyed watching storms whistling over the Isle of Wight or gusts of wind making the trees dance. So you don’t need to be in a garden or gazing over rolling fields and forests. Nature is everywhere if you stop and look, even through the windows of our towns and cities. So for at least some time each day, put down your phone or your tablet, switch off the news and close your laptop. Spend a few moments watching the nature on your doorstep and allow it to help you to find some rhythm in the madness.

woman letting go of phone and looking at nature

© Matthew Roberts

If you do have a garden…

If you are one of the lucky ones with a garden, now is the time to make the most of it, particularly if the weather is on our side. It doesn’t even have to be ‘gardening’ as such. Just making time to be in the garden and notice things is time well spent. I’ve been trying to eat lunch in the garden each day and I take the odd cup of tea out there too. In addition to the goldfinches, there are lots of less obvious inhabitants to pay some attention to. Ants are busily scurrying around enacting their bewildering brand of teamwork. Bees are visiting the few blooms that are out in my garden at the moment.  When dusk falls I occasionally startle a fox sniffing around under the hedge. If you are able to do some actual gardening at the moment, try focussing on small changes to introduce more colour, more movement, more pollen, more water, more variety, more hiding places for wild residents. This will benefit not only the wildlife but also the people who share the space and thrive off the interaction with their wild neighbours.

Bumblebee in a garden

© Nick Upton - 2020VISION

And this too will pass.

The other thing I have been doing is planning for when we get out of solitary confinement. I’ve been planning trips to mountains and coasts. I am planning more major works in garden once we have more resources again. I’ve been planning walks of more than 20 minutes. I’ve been looking online at nature reserves I’ve never visited and corners of the New Forest and South Downs I’ve always wondered about. It will all still be there when we get out of lockdown. If society begins to appreciate British wildlife a bit more as a result of the current, horrible crisis, I would hope it will all still be there for decades and centuries to come; thriving, recovering and becoming wilder by the day. That’s part of the challenge in the end; using a crisis and its aftermath as an opportunity to become a wilder society, living in a wilder world.

By 6:45, I have finished the cup of tea and I go back inside to turn my attention keeping in touch with loved ones and to adjusting my way of life to meet the new situation we’ve all been presented with. Thankfully the garden and the windows and photos of plants, animals and mountains will be there, providing a constant escape and source of relief and refreshment.  Stay safe everyone.